Slavery in Cloud Atlas


There are numerous themes that permeate David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – reincarnation, connectedness, trust, and human nature are just a few. But often overlooked is the allusion to slavery, which, while explicit in some sections, remains much more subtle in others. In Adam Ewing’s story this theme is quite clear. Autua, the African slave who Ewing saw getting whipped, stows away on the Prophetess and not only proves that he is a more than able shipman, but actually saves Ewing’s life from the clutches of the conniving Dr. Goose. As a result, Ewing dedicates the rest of his life to abolitionist work. In Letters from Zedelghem however, things are not as apparent. A close reading however, reveals the attempt of Mr. Ayres to figuratively enslave Charles Frobisher, claiming that since he pays him he owns everything that the young musician creates. Not long after, unable to take it, Frobisher sadly takes his own life.

In Half-Lives, the examples are also not as explicit, but in my opinion it can be viewed as a commentary on the enslavement of people by massively powerful corporations, who go so far as to assassinate anyone who would stand in their way. In the Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, poor Timothy is basically enslaved by the tyrannical Nurse Noakes who imprisons him and beats him. In An Orison of Sonmi 451 this theme is taken to an extreme as fabricants are manufactured to serve pure bloods, working 17 hours a day, sleeping in boxes, and being fed their recycled coworkers. Lastly Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After, Zachry’s people are subjugated by the vicious Kona warriors who raid their village and decimate the peaceful farming people. So, as you can see, the theme of slavery, or perhaps for generally Tyranny, is another constant through Cloud Atlas, and Mitchell in my opinion does an excellent job of showcasing not only its different incantations, but also its devastating effects. 

– Zach


~ by zshrmn on March 23, 2014.

One Response to “Slavery in Cloud Atlas”

  1. Interesting. I saw that coming with Sonmi 451 and Atua, but didn’t really realize that with the other stories. However, now that I think about it, it becomes very clear with Mr. Ayers’ attitude towards Frobrisher about the sextet. The theme of slavery throughout the book really portrays that the drive for control over others really transcends through time. How it repeats itself and is indeed circular, not linear. I also wonder if there is a connection between the characters who die right after their stories are told and the ones that live


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